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If I want to express the time signature for common time in inline text (like the text you're reading), without the use of special graphics or symbols, I find it tempting to type it this way:

4/4

But wait a minute. Where does that slash come from? It's not a fraction. It's a time signature. There is absolutely no reason for using a slash, and this can send the wrong message, especially to learners. The slash gives me a bad vibe.

Is anyone aware of a standard way to type this in-line, preferably from some style source? I'm actually wondering what the book Behind Bars would say about this, if anything, but that's more for standard notation. I don't have a copy, but I know it's become a pretty solid reference.

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Waiting for a good answer ! 'C' is another way to show common time, but it's not far off a fraction. The numerator tells how many, the denominator tells what each bit is.3/4 and 6/8 are not the same (as in fractions), but each digit is absolute.However, if you saw 34 or 68 it would be meaningless. –  Tim Jul 30 at 14:59

3 Answers 3

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In plain text you can use the vertical bar symbol | (aka pipe) instead of /. It's a very common character, so your keyboard should have an easy way to type it. It would look like this: 4|4.

You can check the list of Unicode characters and search for other characters that might be used instead of /, like ⧘ ⦙ ⬍, there's a lot of them (some have mathematical implications too, though). If you find no other symbol is useful, and using slash really bothers you, I think using over instead is a good alternative, as in 4 over 4.

I don't think it's possible to put one character over another in plain text.

In more formal documents with more formatting options, you have the option to put one character over the other. The way of doing it is system dependent.

  • In Wikipedia you use {{music|time|4|4}}) to notate 4 over 4.

  • In LaTex you would use \overset{4}{4} in math mode.

  • In LilyPond you would use \time 4/4.

  • In a word processor you can use equation mode (all popular word processors have it) to write one character over another, inline.

With that said, I don't think using / is a big issue, as long as the context is clear (which should be while talking about music theory).

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The only reason not to use a slash is that it implies division.

But it's the closest match to standard notation and the symbol there looks even more like division. You're trying to reproduce what standard notation does, so use /

That / will be the least of your learners' worries. I'd say the numbers themselves will be more worrisome. Triple meter? Have fun! And it's something they'll just have to get over just like everyone else did.

Use /

Also, yes, Behind Bars is a great book to learn to draw standard notation correctly. I have it.

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"x over y" is an expression used in music, and in mathematics. The time signature can be thought mathematically as x * 1 / y, for example, 4 * 1 / 4.

I wouldn't worry too much about it looking mathematical, personally, since when used in context it will be correctly understood, and not confusing in a musical context.

What are you doing in inline text, about the rest of the musical symbols? Will they all be crammed onto a single line?

Incidentally, 4/4 is not a proper fraction anyway, is it?

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